Presenter: Jack MacIntosh (University of Calgary)

"Berkeley est le seul philosophe que nous ait donné l'Irlande depuis Jean Scot Erigène (IXe siècle)." [T. E. Jessop, "Berkeley 1685-1753," in M. Merleau-Ponty, ed., Les Philosophes Célèbres]

What rubbish! Without taking anything away from Berkeley or Eriugena, Robert Boyle (1627-1691) is at least as interesting, and able, a philosopher as either of them.

Boyle was both a philosopher in our sense of the term, and a natural philosopher, that is, a scientist. He was a wide ranging thinker who wrote interestingly, lengthily, and (I believe) with more philosophical sophistication than his admiring, slightly younger, contemporary John Locke, on topics such as atheism, atomism, ethics, epistemology, miracles, natural laws, philosophy of mind, philosophy of religion, qualities, and scientific method.

In this paper, after situating Boyle and his work in the historical context, I discuss one aspect of his views on scientific method. Natural philosophers before Boyle performed experiments but, surprisingly often, their results confirmed their initial hypothesis. This often didn't happen in Boyle's real life laboratory: glass tubes, blown with difficulty by glass blowers, broke; chemicals proved to be impure; desired apparatus was unobtainable, and what was available was unsuitable; measurements to the desired level of accuracy could not be made, and so on. All this Boyle scrupulously reported. He was either an uncommonly bad experimenter or an unusually honest one. Notably, he also reported his many successful experiments in sufficient detail to allow replication. In this paper, using examples from his published works, as well as from his mss, I argue that Boyle was himself learning about, and by meticulous reporting teaching others of, the value of negative and limited experimental results, an often overlooked, but important, advance in scientific research.